Speculations: A ChiSeries Blog

Speculations is a blog hosted by the SpecFic Colloquium that will provide short articles discussing a range of topics related to speculative fiction--that is, science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, magic realism and other associated genres. We encourage you to applaud, to contend, to debate and to discuss the material here! We want a dialogue about the status of the field so please write in with your thoughts, but please respect Internet etiquette.

If you're interested in submitting a blog entry, e-mail Helen Marshall with the topic you have in mind!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why More Kindle Sales Over Hardcovers on Amazon Is a Good Thing

by Matt Moore

Amazon announced recently (July 19, 2010):

Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.

This is good news. Ebooks give readers a quick, easy and (hopefully) inexpensive way to not just read books, but discover and try new authors.

However, I’m wary of how publishers will react. Some publishers fear that ebooks released at the same time as hardcovers take away from sales of the highly profitable hardcovers. As well, there is a belief that demand for ebooks and hardcovers if released at the same time are equal, so the price of ebooks relates to its perceived demand rather than cost.

Now with Kindle sales surpassing hardcovers, publishers might feel justified in delaying ebooks or keeping prices elevated to make up for what they perceive as a shortfall in profits. Yet if publishers want to improve their bottom lines, they should drop the prices of ebooks and release books in ebooks and hardcover formats simultaneously.

Hardcovers Are Money Makers

Hardcovers have higher per unit profits than paperbacks. Publishers know that big name authors have a built-in audience who are willing to pay a premium for the latest book. This is the reason why paperbacks come out a year after the hardcovers—publishers give the audience the choice: buy the expensive hardcover now, or wait a year and save.

I don’t fault publishers for this approach—they are in business to turn a profit. My issue, though, is they’re mistaken impression that releasing an ebook at the same time as hardcover will eat into hardcover sales. What publishers do not understand is they are two different markets.

Readers of Hardcovers vs.Those Who Read  ebooks

Hardcovers are for serious, committed fans. They want to read the story right now, but also want the book—its weight, cover art, and whatever other goodies there might be inside. And later, they want it up on their shelf where they can see it… or allow others to see that they have it.

People who read ebooks want convenience. Bringing a paperback on the bus or to the beach is easy. Bringing the equivalent of many paperbacks in one small device—a device where you can preview and buy new books from anyplace with a wifi signal—is easier. For those who value convenience, a hardcover is a bulky, cumbersome object that gets in the way of trying to read it.

Publishers Don’t Understand These Markets

Yet publishers get this confused. They seem to think a committed fan will now opt for an inexpensive ebook rather than a hardcover. Or, they might think the casual reader will pay for a hardcover if no ebook is available. Neither of these is true, but with this news from Amazon, publishers may think “We can’t risk hardcover sales. We should delay the release of the Kindle version. Or, increase the price so we make up the profit from lost hardcover sales.”

Publishers Have An Opportunity

But the increasing sales of ebooks is actually good news for publishers and should result in good news for readers of ebooks.

Lower eBook Prices

With ebooks growing in popularity, publishers should be lowering ebook prices. There is a large market out there interested in ebooks, but are hesitant to buy a reader and then incur additional costs of buying ebooks that cost as much a paperback—better to just buy the paperback. By lowering the price, readers can make up the cost of the ebook device in the price difference between the ebook and paperback. Though publishers may make a lower per-unit profit, the increase in units sold will increase overall profit.

Further, with more casual readers buying ebooks, publishers can lower the print runs on paperbacks, which have a higher per unit costs than ebooks.

Release eBooks and Hardcovers Simultaneously

Releasing an ebook at the same time as the hardcover might improve hardcover sales. Imagine a new novel you’re interested in comes out in hardcover and ebook. Not willing to spend $25.99 on the hardcover, you buy the ebook for $5.99 (which is lower than the price of the paperback released next year). You read it and love it. You want to go back and re-read it, savouring the experience. Rather than read the book one small screen at a time, you buy the hardcover.

Now imagine if the ebook came out a year after the hardcovers. There might not be any hardcovers left in stock, denying the publisher that additional sale.

Two Audiences—Committed and Casual—Allow Buzz to Grow

By allowing committed fans (who buy the hardcovers) and those who are curious (who buy the ebook) to read a book at the same time, publishers allow for greater buzz to build from those two audiences, who each bring different perspectives. If the buzz is positive and loud enough, it might convince someone who is waiting for the paperback to go out and buy the hardcover.

By day, Matt Moore is a project manager and communication specialist in the information technology field. By night, he is a science fiction and horror writer with work in On Spec and Tesseracts Thirteen and an upcoming e-book published by Damnation Books. By later at night, he is the marketing director for ChiZine Publications, a small Canadian publisher. Raised in small-town New England, a place rich with legends and ghost stories, he lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He blogs at mattmoorewrites.wordpress.com.
By Matt Moore

When a prank goes wrong, three teenage boys are locked in the basement of a remote house by a man they know only as "Silverman". Given a gun loaded with one bullet, their captor instructs them to play a game: Before the next morning, one of them must choose which of the other two will shoot and kill the third. Play the game and the two survivors can go free. If they don't, all of them will die. As morning approaches and hope of being found and rescued fades, each boy must decide if he'll work with the others to try to escape and risk being killed, or save himself by playing Silverman's Game.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Book By Any Other Name

By Helen Marshall

The recent bidding wars over eReaders have spawned a series of articles in newspapers and online journals predicting the demise of the book and looking with interest, excitement, nostalgia, foreboding, and regret to the age of digital books.  As a book historian by training, and one who specializes in the period right on the cusp of the transition from manuscript to print, I’ve been watching curiously to see how it all pans out. Books are going through growing pains, a kind of shaky puberty: their hormones are all over the place; they are experimenting with new identities; there’s a great deal of angst and worry from their parental publishers who both look forward to a new age of cheaper printing costs, less environmental damage, and fewer warehouse fees, but also who also wonder what kind of friends their baby will make at school and whether they’ll be needed at all.

In many ways, it’s a time of crisis; but as with all such growing pains it’s the transition that hurts most and the status of the industry before and after may well look the same – even if we lose some players and gain others. It’s a big shake-up, a chance for reading to reinvent itself, to establish what needs to be kept and what can be thrown out with the trash, or, to be more eco-conscience, recycled.

But are books – the kind made from paper and glue that you buy at the drugstore – really dead? I think not. Books as cultural and physical artefacts are still ingrained so deeply that our subconscious will have a hard time letting them go. Can you imagine swearing on an eBook of the Bible? If you walk into a stranger’s house, will you shuffle through the files on their Kindle? Books have status. They have weight. They have beauty. They have authority.

Certainly, eReaders will chip away at the edges of that over time, but the fact remains that books and eBooks are two very different things: they encourage different kinds of stories, different reading practices, different reading experiences. The Guardian recently published a piece, “The Art of Slow Reading.” It suggested that the interactivity of texts, our ability to cycle quickly from partial text to partial text, was damaging our ability to absorb larger chunks of text. All we process is the bite-sized (or byte-sized). In medieval studies, we compare the phenomena of intensive and extensive reading: if you only have a very limited number of books, you read them intensively, again and again, until you have a very deep understanding of the text. That’s what medieval monks did. Reading extensively requires you to access numerous texts, but to have a less substantial grasp on individual content. Society has been moving increasingly toward extensive reading patterns (when it moves toward any kind of increased reading pattern at all). It seems to me that eReaders will likely continue to push us in this direction – certainly, some reading will improve: the inclusion of dictionaries, glosses, character summaries will no doubt mean that the text is easier to interact with. But it may also play havoc with an author’s ability to control narrative flow.

This has, in some cases, proven to be a problem for the publishing of poetry. Billie Collins, in a recent article in the Associate Press, had a real problem with the way that eReader screens displayed the line-breaks of his poems: "The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break," Collins says.

It’s not just poetry that faces this problem. Prose writers – really attentive ones, anyway – use all sorts of features of layout to control the pacing of their books: white space, indentations, paragraph size. Read Dan Brown and you’ll find short, snappy paragraphs (much like Twitter feeds!); read Robert Shearman’s new book and you’ll find denser blocks with dialogue internalized so as not to break up the text flow. Layout matters, and eBooks aren’t quite there yet precisely because they are too interactive, too changeable, too prone to reader alteration.

There’s something about low-tech that can be useful. Here’s a chilling example. Most university libraries are spending less money on hardcopies and more money on digital databases because they are easier for both staff and students to access and they require less housing space. The problem is that digital databases require annual subscription memberships. As libraries dump their hardcopy budgets, what they find is they must devote more and more money to maintaining the subscriptions. If you buy your full library on an eReader, and donate your paperbacks to the Salvation Army, what happens when you need to upgrade? The Digital Age requires constant upkeep.

My point, though, is not that eBooks are worse than paperbacks; that they are somehow inferior in the quality of the product that they deliver. They aren’t.  But they aren’t a simple upgrade either. They offer us new possibilities for reading and writing. Video didn’t really kill the radio star, and even if the book is dead, I predict it will have a long afterlife.


Helen Marshall spends the majority of her time pursuing a Ph. D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto where she gets to travel across England to examine fourteenth-century manuscripts. Of course, her fascination with the making and writing of books extends well into the present. Her poetry has been published in ChiZine, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. "Mist and Shadows," published originally in Star*Line, appeared in The 2006 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Poetry of 2005." "The Gypsy" and "Crossroads and Gateways" both received honourable mentions in the 2009 Rannu Fund Contest, while four other poems were short-listed. She also works as an editor and slush reader for ChiZine Publications.